“I’m an advocate for native artists, for pretty much my whole life, and I think it’s very important that we have our voice out there.”
Osage costume consultant Julie O’Keefe worked alongside 4-time Academy award-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West to bring on research teams and local artisans for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
The film, which is based on the novel by David Gran, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert de Niro, and Lily Gladstone and is about the horrific murders of the Osage people after oil was discovered on Osage Nation land in the 1920s.
West learned about the project while working alongside Leonardo DiCaprio on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant. After the initial Covid lockdowns and months of researching and accumulating clothing, books, and photographs of the Osage community, West assembled a costume team, including O’Keefe, who was hired to help authentically depict the Osage Nation in the film.
“The Osage were so unique and so elegant, and I got fascinated. I started buying every book I could get, and there was one with the language of the robe about the blankets,” recalled West. “I was diving in for four months before I could go to Oklahoma because of Covid.”
Awards Focus spoke with Jacqueline West and Julie O’Keefe about incorporating local artisans into the project, dressing background characters to shape a scene, and the little details within the Osage community that changed how the costumes were styled on the actors.
Awards Focus: Jacqueline, you started as a fashion designer and moved into costume designing. Can you talk about that transition?
Jacqueline West: It was a strange segue. Alice Waters, who owns the restaurant Chaise Panisse, would come to my store to get dressed every day because it was next door, and I would hang out at her restaurant. It became a film salon of filmmakers, and the director Philip Kaufman came with his wife, and we became good friends. At the time, I had a clothing line, and my company had gotten really big with departments in Barneys and Fred Siegel and worldwide. I was selling all over. Then, when Phil was doing Henry & June, he asked if I would work on the movie as his overall artistic consultant. One thing led to another, and I was bitten.
It was so enticing. I was walking around Paris; I had a driver and a million French francs and was buying stuff left and right. I didn’t want to go back to the clothing business. I was really enjoying the film business. Then, I started getting more offers, and I gradually returned to my store in Berkeley, wrote, “I quit, gone to Hollywood” in shoe polish, wound up my company, and have been in the film business ever since.
AF: Julie, were you bitten by your experience working on Killers of the Flower Moon?
Julie O’Keefe: Definitely. Before I started on the film, I worked producing products because I have a product development background. My chief reached out to me and asked if I would consider sending him my resume because they would be shooting this film here on the reservation, and this was right before Covid. I didn’t know anything about the movies, so I wasn’t sure, but he said they needed someone who understood our clothing, how they’re worn, and the materials.
I’d had a small shop that was a passion project of mine. I was bringing in goods, designing clothes, and working with artisans. It was really for the native community, for Osage, and also for the greater 39 nations in Oklahoma, and my chief understood what I had done to create this traditional shop. I refer to the shop as the Neiman Marcus of Osage County because it had these really beautiful blankets and all these different things.
When I went to work on the movie set, I went in thinking I was only going to be there for about ten days. Then, I ended up working full-time on the movie, learning how to be on a movie set, what the etiquette was, and working with people of Jacqueline’s caliber. I was around it all, the best in the industry, and learning from the top level of Hollywood. I ended up going to another TV series afterward, and I realized that this was something that I could involve artists in.
AF: When reading a script, Jacqueline, what draws you to the film, and where was your starting point on Killers of the Flower Moon before Julie joined production?
West: I heard about this project from Leonardo DiCaprio while we worked on The Revenant together. The project was already in the ethos, and, ironically, my lead background costumer, Monica Haynes, gave me the book. She told me I had to read it because I’ve done other movies with a big native cast. It was right up my alley. When I realized Scorsese was doing it, I’d never worked with him. He wasn’t part of my stable of directors I worked with all the time. While working on Dune, they contacted me in Budapest, asking if I’d be interested in doing this film. Covid happened, and I got another call that the project had come back, and I said I’d love to do it.
I started doing research and steeped myself in the Osage because we’re not taught about the Osage because of what happened historically. Their whole aesthetic was so different than the other tribes that I had put on screen. The Osage were so unique and so elegant, and I got fascinated. I started buying every book I could get, and there was one with the language of the robe about the blankets. I steeped myself in the history and went to Prairie’s Edge in Rapid City, where I bought tons of books. The Sioux consider themselves cousins to the Osage; their language is similar. I was diving in for four months before I could go to Oklahoma because of Covid.
AF: As a consultant, Julie, how were you able to help Jacqueline navigate the finer details, like clothing worn on special occasions and where they lived within the community?
O’Keefe: Within the Osage culture, there are many nuances within the clothing, particularly the shawls and blankets telling you a story. How they’re wearing them depends on what’s happening. If Mollie [Burkhart] is going to see her guardian, then she wears a formal blanket that she wears in a formal way. She has it pulled over. The stripes always go up and down. She’s clipped her collar out. You can wear it either way, but that’s how she chose to wear the blanket. That was through research and photos that Jacqueline collected.
Where Lizzie Q is dying, Mollie wears a black shawl, which is indicative of if you were losing someone. She puts on the black shawl out of respect, but she’s a caretaker. On that day of filming in particular, I’d gone to Lily’s [Gladstone] trailer and asked her to show me the actions she’d gone through in rehearsals. She showed me that she would be combing Lizzie’s hair, which we do for our loved ones when they’re passing away to soothe them. So I said, okay, now we’re going to take the shawl, and we’re going to use it in a utilitarian style because now you’re a caretaker of your mother. We started folding the blanket underneath and flipping it back so that she was able to use her hands.
AF: So, the way they would wear the blankets when meeting the president would also signify the importance of the meeting?
O’Keefe: That’s another life situation, where they’re going to Washington as a delegation to meet up with the president, they’ve pulled out their very best blankets, both men and women. This is no different than a military group sitting down and talking business. Those are power suits. The way they wear those and why they’re wearing them signals that we’re here to talk business with you, and you will speak to us.
AF: I love hearing about the relationship between clothing and the environment. As a Jew, I’ve similarly viewed the tallit as a religious symbol and one that holds the gravity of respect to those wearing it because of why it’s being worn.
Jacqueline, how much were you recreating the photos found through research and creating outfits from new ideas?
West: I relied on research and tried to match what I did with my background characters with Joseph Cigliano, who ran my men’s department, and Monica Haynes, the women’s. It’s how we’ve always worked together. I tell them to find a face for the background. Let’s say we’re doing general store customers, storekeepers, people in the store, businessmen coming through, and you pick a person, dress them, and try to do it as accurately as possible.
They’re really masters at it, and it doesn’t get better in this business. You must find the pieces, costume houses, and vintage clothing vendors. A lot of it came from Europe and Paris. I pulled stuff from all over. European clothes for the moderns because they shopped in Paris in the twenties. I used western costumes, the cowboys and ranchers, which costume designer Luster Bayless collected his entire life.
I didn’t really make up what people were wearing. Characters: once you find who they are, they dress themselves, and you can make them a closet. We had Lily’s closet, Leo’s closet, and then William Hale’s, too. You could pull from that closet by what they’re doing that day in that scene. It’s how I’ve always done every movie.